United States

The US Budget and 1812

Graphs of estimated United States Federal Spending in 1811 and 1814
(Source: usgovernmentspending.com)

With countries like North Korea being potential threats for nuclear war, the United States has been demonstrating its military power and flexing it’s muscle in a act to keep its neighbors in check. This isn’t something new, however, as our nation has been doing this for centuries ever since the War of 1812.  For every single war we’ve ever fought, both political parties have fought their own little wars between each other on how the nation should fund/support the war effort. Today, the US military budget is considered very high by most countries, too high by some, and by others the United States is the number one power in the world and should remain that way by backing itself up with a powerful military. These roots of a powerful and well funded military date back to the War of 1812, in which the increasing tensions between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans on whether or not the nation should centralize began to become dire as the independence and sovereignty of the nation depended on the outcome.

Right after the achievement of our Independence against the British, the United States was heavily in debt from the Revolution and had tons of debt to France and other nations. The nation was slowly recovering, and the weak central government of the United States meant that collecting taxes and organizing the states was very difficult. Not only this, but the country was split between the Democratic-Republicans and Federalists; the two leading parties of the US. The Democratic-Republicans wished to focus on agriculture and keep the government as weak as possible, while the Federalists wished to strengthen the government and industrialize. Recent conflicts in the Atlantic between the US navy and British navy were causing tension as well within the states, and a “Second War of Independence” was demanded by many Democratic-Republicans for events such as the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair and Little Belt affair, in which many Americans were killed in battles against British ships despite no declaration of war. Not only this, but the British were impressing American sailors to join their ships. Impressment is the action of forcing sailors from another nation to join ones fleet, practically making them turncoats against their will. Because of actions like these, the Democratic Republicans demanded that the United States defend her honour. The Federalists, however, weren’t so keen on declaring war a second time on the British. Instead, the Federalists were very pro-British in policy, and wanted no embargoes or action taken against the British for their actions, and for good reason. A big reason to go to war with the British was the desire of the average American to push west and settle more land there, as the overcrowdedness in the East and promising land to the west made many Americans eager to stake their claim. The British, however, controlled the entirety of the area, and war against them would be inevitable if Americans were to settle west.

The American “army” was in reality a few hundred thousand militia and minutemen, with “the regular army consisting of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular; it offered poor pay, and there were few trained and experienced officers” (1812). With such a small professional army, the United States would be destroyed on the battlefield against any organized army from Europe. Not only this, but “The militia objected to serving outside their home states, were not open to discipline, and performed poorly against British forces when outside their home states” (1812). Such a disorderly, undisciplined and poorly trained force would be destroyed if not well funded and paid more attention to.

Graphs of estimated United States Federal Spending in 1811 and 1814
(Source: usgovernmentspending.com)

It wasn’t until the breakout of the war that the US government started to pitch in more to the military. With a rough estimate of 48% of the budget being spent on defense in 1811, the military was still weak and puny compared to the powerful British army. Also, a majority of these funds for defense were given to the navy, which focused on a “quantity over quality” focus on ships. With many ships of low quality being pumped out of New England, the army suffered and was in terrible condition. By 1812, the defense budget managed to get raised from 48% to 76%, and one year after that raised even higher to 81% of the US budget. This is because as the war dragged on into 1814, the British had landed in Washington D.C and burned the White House and majority of the public buildings. With this demoralizing and humiliating disgrace to the nation, the nation stepped up and united. Even the Anti-War Federalists were pushing to keep the war going, demanding that Canada be annexed as a war goal. With this came multiple victories in Upper and Lower Canada, as well as the Battle of New Orleans which provided a crushing defeat both physically and morally to the British.

Because of a resurgence of American pride as seen in The Star Spangled Banner and the recent American victories over far superior British armies, the war began to look like it may well go to the United States. With the Federalists backing up the push for an increase in military spending as well as the Democratic Republicans wanting to maintain a strong military, a trend began to develop. After the war, the military budget remained much higher in peacetime than it had before the war, and has remained that way today. In fact, the trend of American budget being majorly focused on the military and defense is a direct result of the War of 1812, as both sides saw the need of a strong military to maintain sovereignty. In 1794, the rough estimate on defense spending was about 39%, and after the War of 1812 the United States spending on defense has rarely dropped below 50% in times of peace. In recent news,“The Senate took up the $696.5 billion defense bill that the House passed in July with support of 60% of Democrats.” (Forbes) and 89% of the Democratic seats in Senate voted in favor of the bill while 90% of the Republican Senate voted in favor as well. What this shows is that today both parties are still very much in favor of a high military budget, with a majority being for raising the budget despite their differences on almost everything else. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the high budget, and probably will for many years to come.

Article by Ethan Ludwig and Carson Johnson

Sherman, Erik. “89% Of Senate Democrats Help Pass The $696.5B Defense Bill.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 Sept.

     2017, www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2017/09/18/91-of-senate-democrats-help-pass-the-696-5b-defense-bill/#7b097ddf4802.


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